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OPINION PAGE - SEPTEMBER 8, 1999 - JEFFERSON, GEORGIA



Column
Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald - September 8, 1999

Judges should have seen flak coming
One suspects that the ongoing controversy between local judges and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners is due in large part to a series of miscommunications. For that problem, the judges are mostly to blame.
At issue is the revamping of the county's indigent defense program. A change by the Georgia Supreme Court in March made Jackson County's existing public defender system untenable, say the judges.
In July, the judges made a pitch to the county to create a public defender's department to meet the new requirements. Currently, the county does its indigent defense by contract with a local attorney.
But the county balked at the price tag for the department - an estimated $200,000 per year. That's double the current expenditure for indigent defense in the county.
The judges then drafted a consent order and sent it to the county, saying, in effect, that if the county didn't agree to create the department, the judges would enact a panel system of rotating public defender responsibilities among local lawyers. That system would cost even more, an estimated $300,000 per year.
With the county still refusing to create a new public defender's department, the judges have now begun to move toward the rotating panel system. The issue, it appears, is about to become a showdown between the judges and the BOC.
That such a seemingly minor issue has reached this level of controversy holds lessons for everyone who sits in a public office, to wit:
1. The judges didn't lay the groundwork for their initial request by informing both the BOC and the public about the changes in the indigent defense rules. Not only didn't they lay the groundwork, they failed to clearly and completely outline the complex matter in the early part of the budgeting process.
LESSON NUMBER 1: Don't assume everyone else knows the details of an issue. Communicate those details clearly and far in advance of a request for action.
2. The judges didn't anticipate that county leaders would seriously question their request to double expenditures for indigent defense. This should have been a no-brainer. It doesn't matter what the state rules call for, any move that would double the cost of the program is going to come under fire.
LESSON NUMBER 2: If a proposal is going to need increased funding, always anticipate an initial negative response and be prepared to deal with it. Don't go off in a huff when you don't get what you want the first time around.
3. The judges didn't follow up on the issue properly. Sending the consent order to the BOC only increased the tension without resolving the matter. The legalistic consent order was like pointing a gun at the county's head and demanding that they do what the judges wanted.
LESSON NUMBER 3: You seldom get the response you want by using intimidation, threats or arm-twisting. It would have been far better for the judges to have scheduled a follow-up meeting with the BOC to discuss the issue rather than running to a legal document in an effort to bully the county into action.
4. The judges didn't anticipate the public's response would go against them. Although the judges probably looked at this matter as just another court rule, they should have also realized that indigent defense isn't high on the list of the public's priorities. In fact, the public doesn't give a darn about helping defend those accused of committing crimes.
LESSON NUMBER 4: Every issue has a political side. Anticipate the politics of an issue and be sensitive to those concerns even if you believe another course of action is necessary.
No one can predict the outcome of this controversy. If the state has indeed changed the rules as the judges indicate, then the county may have no choice but to double its funding for indigent defense in the county.
But county leaders don't have to like it nor should they give in without making it clear to our elected officials in Atlanta that this emphasis on helping those accused of crimes rubs against the grain of the public, which is more concerned with putting offenders behind bars rather than giving them help to stay out of jail.
Our judges should have seen this controversy coming and been better prepared to deal with the reaction. That they didn't sense this reaction makes one wonder if the entire judicial system isn't losing touch with the community at-large.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.



EditorialS
The Jackson Herald
September 8, 1999

SAT results disappointing
We realize that standardized testing isn't the only way to measure a student or school's performance. There are other factors that weigh in the balance of what makes a school successful.
Still, we're disappointed that all three local high schools fell below the state average in the recent SAT results. And while local college prep students did much better than the overall averages, even those students didn't meet the national average.
We don't suggest that our local schools should become obsessed with the SAT or any other standardized test. But these tests are one tool we should use to evaluate how our schools and students are performing.
For whatever reason, the class of 1999 test-takers didn't fare too well when compared to the overall state and national results. Let's hope this is just a minor bump in the road as we strive to raise local academic performances.
If we as a community set high expectations, we believe most of our students will work to measure up to that standard.


On restaurant inspections
One of the more popular news features we've done recently has been the results of area restaurant inspections. A number of people have commented favorably on these reports and we plan to continue doing them.
A question we've gotten several times, however, is why all restaurants aren't reported in each article. The answer is that inspectors don't visit every restaurant every month. We report only what local health department officials inspect each month.
Keep watching for these reports. It's a matter of your health.



Letter
The Jackson Herald
September 8, 1999

Inmate apologizes for vandalism at New Salem Church
Dear Editor:
I know I may be putting myself on "the spot" so to speak; however, I must write this letter. If you publish this, I will be forever in debt to you.
My name is Jeffery Tingle. I'm 20 years old and, since the age of 18, I've been incarcerated in the Georgia State Prison system. The reason for my incarceration is that on March 10, 1997, I and two other young men broke into New Salem Baptist Church. I was charged with "vandalism to a place of worship" and, for my crime, I rightfully received a 20 to 30 year sentence.
The reason I'm writing this is because I wish to apologize to the people of Jackson County. As a young man, I was full of hate and ignorance. I did a mean and senseless deed. I pray for forgiveness from the public of Jackson County as well as that from the Lord. For my crime, I accept the responsibility of my sentence. I have learned a lot in prison and I have come far from the child I used to be. When the Lord sees fit for me to come home, I pray Jackson County will accept me. To the county, whatever means I must prove my conviction, I will do whatever I can for Jackson County.
To my family, Mom and Dad, I'm so very sorry for the pain my ignorance brought you. You two are the best a child could ask for; however, some children refuse to listen. Sorry.
To New Salem Baptist Church, please understand my family is truly sorry for my actions. I'm so very sorry for my ignorance and pray your forgiveness. I will in some way make up for those things I did. I'm so very sorry.
To the youth of Jackson County, prison is not cool, nor are gangs, drugs or ignorance, which all lead to prison. Please take heed to God's word and stop the ignorance.
Sincerely,
Jeff Tingle



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